Reps. Gosar, Emmer, Nolan and Westerman Urge Rescission of 234,328-acre Mineral Withdrawal and Renewal of Leases in Minnesota
(Courtesy of the Congressional Western Caucus)
Washington, D.C. - Today, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul A. Gosar D.D.S. (AZ-04), Chief Infrastructure and Forestry Officer Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Western Caucus member Rep. Tom Emmer (MN-06) and Rep. Rick Nolan (MN-08) released the following statements after touring several mining operations, conducting a stakeholder meeting, and visiting the proposed federal withdrawal area adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness outside of the city of Ely, Minnesota:
“The Obama Administration waged its war on mining until the very last days of its tenure and the ramifications of those activities have far reaching negative impacts on our local economies, jobs and K-12 education systems. By proposing a massive mineral withdrawal of more than 425,000 acres of land when you include state and private land in northern Minnesota, the Obama Administration attempted to decimate a crucial component of the Minnesota economy and wreaked havoc on the public education system in the state. When more than 17,000 jobs and billions of dollars in revenue are at stake, legacy building at the expense of our children’s future and education is simply unacceptable,” said Chairman Gosar. “Today we heard from families, business owners and local stakeholders who know that we can create these jobs and protect Minnesota’s recreational economy. I am proud to join my colleagues in calling on Secretary Zinke and Secretary Purdue to rescind this flat out assault on the mining industry and move these projects forward.”
“I am glad Congressmen Gosar and Westerman were able to join me and Congressman Nolan today as we highlighted the crucial role that Minnesota’s natural resources play in the future success of our state and region,” remarked Congressman Emmer. “Withdrawing approximately 425,000 acres of land from potential exploration will undermine the long history of contributions northern Minnesotans have made to our country and will devastate the economies of our state and local communities. Unfortunately, over the past eight years, the Obama Administration stifled numerous industries with regulations, and the mining industry serves as a prime example. Washington bureaucracy continues to hamper hundreds of millions of dollars in current and future mining investment in our state, even before an environmental assessment is allowed to commence. It’s time to get government out of the way so we can find ways to bring good paying jobs and revenue to Minnesota in the safest and most environmentally friendly manner possible. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Trump Administration to do just that."
“To be clear, I will never support or allow mining within the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area (BWCA) under ANY circumstances. That said, prohibiting exploration outside of the BWCA buffer zone, before a project proposal is even made, is simply irresponsible,” Congressman Nolan said. “We should never be afraid of exploration and discovery, or using science and facts to dictate important decisions. We must allow mining initiatives to proceed through the proper, rigorous and thorough environmental review process – using science, facts and technology to guide our review of actual projects and environmental technology.”
“I was glad to join with Chairman Gosar, Rep. Nolan, and Rep. Emmer on today’s visit to Twin Metals. This company has proposed an expansion that will pump billions of dollars into the local economy, create thousands of jobs, and provide funding for K-12 education in Minnesota while maintaining the highest levels of environmental stewardship and sustainability,” said Congressman Westerman. “But unnecessary rules handed down by unelected Washington, D.C., bureaucrats that violate agreements going back to the 1950's, threaten its future. After visiting the operation and meeting with stakeholders in Northern Minnesota, I understand this project's value to our country and our economy. I ask Secretaries Zinke and Perdue to honor long-standing agreements between the federal government and our citizens by lifting these last minute rules handed down by the Obama Administration, allowing Americans to continue investing in jobs, economic development, and education.”
Following today’s tours and meetings, the members announced they are circulating a draft letter to other Members of Congress calling on Secretary Zinke and Secretary Perdue to rescind the 234,328-acre mineral withdrawal application and renew two improperly terminated leases. To read the draft letter click HERE.
In the waning days of the Obama Administration, federal land management agencies took several actions that could decimate local economies, stifle job creation and cause significant harm to K-12 education in Minnesota.
On January 5, 2017, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) proposed a 234,328-acre federal mineral withdrawal of National Forest System (NFS) lands, for a 20-year term, within the Rainy River Watershed on the Superior National Forest, immediately placing this vast area off limits to development for up to two years while the withdrawal is considered. The total withdrawal application boundary spans approximately 425,000 acres, including 95,000 acres of state school trust fund lands.
In conjunction with this massive mineral withdrawal, the Obama Administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) inappropriately rejected Twin Metals Minnesota’s application to renew two hard rock mineral leases in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest – leases that were signed in 1966 and renewed without controversy in 1989 and 2004.
To date, Twin Metals has reportedly invested upward of $400 million – a significant investment – in reliance on two federal mineral leases that the BLM executed with the company's predecessors and renewed each time they expired.
According to Twin Metals, BLM’s refusal to renew the leases was based on a March 2016 opinion by the then-Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, concluding – based on flawed legal analysis - that BLM had the discretion to deny the renewal of the mineral leases.
In addition, Minnesota’s Constitution mandates that state trust lands ensure a long-term source of funds for K-12 education. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, revenues from state mineral leases derived from school trust lands in Minnesota totaled $51.6 million and $36.8 million, respectively. All told, Minnesota is projected to lose up to $3 billion in royalty revenues for the State’s Permanent School Trust Fund that would support nearly 900,000 K-12 students statewide if the withdrawal application and cancelled leases are not rejected by the new administration.
If left unchecked, the anti-mining actions pursued by the Obama Administration will block the creation of thousands of American jobs and cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars. The University of Minnesota-Duluth estimates the creation of 12,000 construction jobs and 5,000 long-term mining jobs if mining projects already being pursued in Duluth Complex are allowed to move forward. These are good-paying jobs, as the average annual mining wage in Minnesota was $78,635 in 2015. These projects are also estimated to generate $2.5 billion annually for the economy.
The proposed withdrawal also contradicts the legislative intent of Congress. In 1950, Congress took action to make minerals available for mineral exploration and development within the Superior National Forest. In 1978, Congress passed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act (BWCAW), a historic compromise that prohibited mining within the Boundary Waters Area but explicitly permitted mining to occur in the Superior National Forest.
Environmental stewardship and positive economic growth are not mutually exclusive. Our members We support regulations that ensure environmentally-responsible mining in order to protect water quality and preserve the scenic beauty of the Boundary Waters area, where significant buffer zones already exist, including areas created by the BWCAW Act and the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Act. Furthermore, any new mines proposed in the region will have to undergo, and adhere to, strict mandates and requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), state laws and other regulations. Unfortunately, the environmental study affiliated with the withdrawal pre-empts this comprehensive review from taking place, blocking the opportunity for a project to even be considered.
Minnesotans across the state have supported the development of the state’s mining industry, and specifically have voiced support for the Twin Metals project. Countless individuals and local businesses have weighed in against the actions of the Obama Administration. Government officials on both sides of the aisle have publically opposed these actions. In January, the Minnesota State Legislature sent a letter and “expressed their outrage at the recent politically driven decisions.” Additionally, the Lake County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution opposing the proposed withdrawal.